It’s often said that the construction industry could, or should, be more like the automotive industry. Advocates for prefabrication, modular construction and the like want to see the techniques that make car production lines successful transferred to the manufacture and erection of buildings.
At the risk of sounding patronising, there are, of course, significant differences between cars and buildings, not least in terms of the scale of a single unit produced. Principles and techniques from the automotive industry – and from manufacturing generally – therefore cannot simply be carried over.
In manufacturing, it is typically seen that the more something is produced, the more efficient (and cheaper) the production becomes as a cycle of continuous improvement comes into effect. While this is sometimes seen in traditional construction, the same results are not necessarily evidenced, and it is helpful to understand why.
Construction platforms – which focus more on the assembly of buildings than the construction of them – are one way in which the benefits of being able to pass learnings from project to project in a structured way, could be enjoyed in the construction industry.
Why doesn’t traditional construction gain the full benefit of continuous improvement?
While the traditional construction of buildings on sites is very different to producing cars (or other manufactured products) on automated lines, you would still expect improvement from project to project to exist.
After all, traditional construction is generally reliant on specialist tradespeople and subcontractors who perform their craft or produce their work, day in, day out. That remains the case, even if they are consistently moving from one site to the next. And there are sites where multiple buildings of a same or similar type are constructed, and where processes can be repeated.
So, it is perhaps no surprise that there is, indeed, evidence for continuous improvement cultures existing in traditional construction. *
However, some of the conditions which lead you to assume that continuous improvement exists – like those described above – are also reasons why the full benefit of properly embedding those learning curves and making sure they are flattened, is rarely realised, if they are realised at all.
In short, it requires very little disruption to ‘break’ the positive effect of a team committed to continuous improvement, and traditional construction is full of such disruption.
Moving to a different site, working with a different team of people, using different materials (even if they are similar type of product), and even taking a relatively long break between projects – all of these things act as the type of disruption that stops the progress of embedding and passing on learnings from a particular project and forces them to start all over again.
This constant ‘churn’ makes it incredibly difficult to optimise what happens on site , as the process of constructing a building is always very slightly different. This is the case even when two seemingly identical buildings are being constructed.
What are the two systems used in Seismic II?
The two systems designed for use with Seismic II’s common steel frame and connector block came to be known within the project as Option 1 and Option 2.
Option 1 was developed by Algeco (formerly Elliott Group) and the McAvoy Group. The two modular manufacturers produced floor, ceiling, flat roof, external wall and internal wall panels or cassettes, which were a development of their existing modular solutions.
Tata Steel worked on Option 2, which included floor, ceiling and external wall components, internal wall linings and drop-on roof cassettes. The aim was to mimic the approach of an automotive supplier, by developing components that could be supplied to site ready for fitting to the common frame, streamlining the assembly process as much as possible.
Both systems underwent significant amounts of testing, including fire safety, vibration, acoustics and, for the walls, racking strength. The end result is two different sets of components that can be used with the same frame, and which can be assembled by a contractor or delivered to a site pre-assembled.
How could construction platforms break the cycle of disruption?
Construction platforms are a type of MMC (modern method of construction), where manufacturers create ‘kits of parts’ that are designed to interact with a standardised structural frame. This standardisation means that components created by individual manufacturers are also interoperable with one another.
Standardisation is often viewed negatively for the built environment, as it suggests a restriction in freedom for architects and designers. The fear is that all buildings will look the same , though this is not the case.
This ‘platform approach to design for manufacture and assembly’ (P-DfMA) is about reducing risk in procurement and giving architects and specifiers greater certainty . The standardisation is not in how buildings look, but in how they are assembled. The aim is to create repeatable assembly procedures using materials and components that are known quantities, which has the overall effect of reducing variability in the creation of the built environment.
In that sense, it’s easy to see how construction platforms might be capable of addressing some of the issues that negatively impact the transfer of knowledge from project to project – and ensures that each time we have to negotiate another steel learning curve.
Buildings will always be a product of their individual sites, so it will never be possible to avoid people having to move from one project to the next. In an ideal world, teams of people will work together consistently from job to job, rather than creating a new site team from scratch every time.
Even if that’s not possible, however, there will be a greater degree of repetition involved with assembling buildings using a construction platform. And in that way, at least, construction could resemble manufacturing production lines just a little more closely.
Tata Steel is involved in several initiatives, such as the Platform Design Programme and the SEISMIC II platform , aimed at proving the concept of construction platforms and applying them across different sectors. Stay up to date on our modular construction activity by signing up to our newsletter .
* Reference source > https://constructionphysics.substack.com/p/where-are-my-damn-learning-curves?s=w